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Brutality and abuse on board slave ships revealed

Maritime Union of New Zealand media release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
19 September 2005

Brutality and abuse on board slave ships revealed by escaped crew

The ten Indonesian fishermen who jumped ship in Nelson on Wednesday 14 September 2005 were being treated "worse than slaves", according to International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) co-ordinator Kathy Whelan.

Ms Whelan says her interviews with the crew who escaped the Korean- flagged slave ship "Sky 75" reveal shocking labour abuses are continuing to occur within New Zealand waters.

She says the escaping crew members were forced to scale a fence in the port before searching out a police station for their own protection.

Ms Whelan says the crew were not seeking to enter New Zealand illegally, but were seeking to protect their lives and were in a desperate state.

The crew each paid a "fee" of approximately NZ$1000 to get their job to a Jakarta manning agency, before joining the vessel on 29 July 2005.

During their time on the ship they were subjected to long hours, fed on rotten food, physically and verbally abused, and forced to wash on deck in sea water.

Accommodation was poor, with twelve crew to a cabin and no blankets, and a crew member who had his arm crushed by machinery was made to continue working without medical treatment.

The crew had no protective clothing or footwear, and many worked in jandals and bare feet in cold conditions.

Ms Whelan says no wages were paid to the crew by their employment agency in Jakarta, who had promised to send the money to their families.

The ten fishermen who escaped were sent home via Christchurch on Sunday, but Ms Whelan says eight of their fellow crew are still effectively trapped on the ship.

"The remaining eight workers had to borrow the agents fee to get their jobs, and are forced to stay on board through fear of reprisal."

Maritime Union of New Zealand General Secretary Trevor Hanson says the Maritime Union has been put on alert throughout the country, and will take whatever action is deemed necessary to end the abuse of crew on foreign-owned vessels.

"This latest incident has pushed things over the line – as workers we are no longer prepared to have slave labour in our industry."

Mr Hanson says the incident was just another in a series of horror stories that displayed the dark and sinister underbelly of free trade and globalization.

The Labour Department and the ITF are pursuing the crews unpaid wages of US$200 per month.

Ms Whelan says all crews working in New Zealand waters are entitled to New Zealand minimum wage and conditions.

ENDS

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